Hackit: Network Attached Storage?

With each passing day the rate we acquire digital media increases (we don’t even bother unpacking our CDs when we move anymore). Large publishers have started moving away from DRM, which means we’ll be buying even more digital media in the future. Acquiring all of this nonphysical property puts importance on not just making it easily accessible, but also protecting it from destruction. Slashdot asked for reader suggestions of what NAS to buy; we’ve compiled some of the options below and want to know what you use.

For those willing to build machines themselves, there are several NAS focused distributions available. FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD and takes up less than 32MB even though it has a full featured web interface. Openfiler can be used for building full fledged NAS/SAN appliances. It can be deployed on bare metal or as a virtual machine and 2.3 has new features like bonding multiple NICs. CryptoNAS is a liveCD that helps you build a user friendly NAS device with full hard disk encryption.

Many consumer NAS devices have chosen to run Linux. This makes them good hacking targets for adding new functionality and we’ve covered many of them in the past. The Linksys NSLU2 “slug” has been very popular. Buffalo has sold many different devices: the Kurobox, Linkstation, and Terastation have a dedicated modification community. We’ve got a LaCie Ethernet Disk mini unopened in our office that was initially purchased because we knew they could be hacked. NAS-Central has a list of many of the other online communities dedicated to NAS devices.

Not that excited about administrating one more Linux box? When Apple released the Time Capsule earlier in the year it introduced the world to high capacity storage that “just works”. Although not exactly server grade, it brought the idea of regular backups to the home user. 1TB is nice, but it’s not upgradeable or easily replaceable; look to the Drobo for that. Drobo has built a fan base by making storage management easy for anyone. Just throw your commodity drives into the box and you’re ready to go. Unfortunately, turning it into a NAS is a $200 addition. They’ve published an SDK, so you should see new applications coming for it soon.

All of these options are just for in house serving, but none of them are true backup solutions since your data still goes away when your house burns down. A couple years ago, [Jeremy Zawodny] looked into moving his backup servers to Amazon’s S3 and compiled a list of tools that work with the service. Jungle Disk is probably the most user friendly. It’s multiplatform and mounts as a local disk. There’s an add-in for Windows Home Server too. If you’re looking to set up a simple personal backup system, we highly recommend [jwz]‘s advice for regular backups.

That’s a fairly thorough rundown of hacker friendly backup options, but we want to know what you use. How do you store, serve, and protect your data? What custom features have you added to commercial NAS devices?


  1. 36chambers says:

    I use a POPcorn Hour Networkedmediatank
    It has NAS capabilities – I can add HD via internal IDE or even with USB sata/IDE controllers – It also plays all my media as well.

  2. Not even a nod towards OpenSolaris and Sun Open Storage? Why not?

  3. barrett says:

    I use my linux running Nslu2 (slug) combined with one of microsfot’s power toys called synctoy. Keeps’s important files in a folder updated weekly and a folder updated daily all on the 4 GB flashdrive plugged into my nslu2. I’m hoping soon to replace synctoy with software that runs off the nslu2 so only the pc’s being backed up need to be on.

  4. Tenetri says:

    I use a very well done program called SyncBackSE. Every 24 hours (could be customizable to every 10 minutes, or every month) it backs up all files to a harddrive I have in a fireproof safe. Works great, I havn’t used it to recover anything yet, but I sure will be happy I went out and bought a safe, and a 1/2 gig HD, if anything does happen.
    I won’t be upgrading it to anything as advanced as these for afew years most likely. That is, unless I fall into a truck made of Money. (Preferably not American though:))

  5. Skyler Orlando says:

    I use Google. Gmail and Google Docs, mostly, if it’s anything worth saving. That way, too, I can access it whether I’m at home, at school, or somewhere else that has internet access.

    Of course, this wouldn’t work for many people who back up more than email or documents, but for me, it works just fine.

    Plus, I get a live Hack-a-Day feed on my home page… lol.

    Skyler Orlando

  6. satow says:

    I would avoid getting the LaCie external hard drives. At the place where I work, I have 6 of them under my desk. Each one of them, within a year or two of operation died of hard drive failure. I opened one up and found that they use Maxtor hard drives, using some type hardware based raid controller. I believe that they failed mainly due to heat problems. The fan exhaust port is too small. It should be a wire grid to maximize air flow rather than small machined air slots and holes.
    So far the one that I have had good luck with are the Seagate ext. hard drives. Physically they are pretty ugly but work well. I also use acronis and save the images to the external drives.

  7. A_Blind_Man says:

    Use explosives they work for everything, on that note i really don’t do much with NAS thats more my brothers forte

  8. Zuhaib says:

    One thing that got left out was rolling out your own NAS by using Server-Grade OS like Linux or *BSD.
    I have used freeNAS in the past and its great at doing what its meant to do, and while you think with its BSD-core it would be Hacker friendly but its not. Its setup so stripped down that I had a hard time getting any Bittorrent client to install properly and run.

    I would have liked to check out OpenFiler had I heard about it, but I just gave up and install Ubuntu-Server. Using something like Webmin you get a decent web interface and since I am running this on a retired system (my old Gaming machine) I can use it too its full power. Almost like a NAS-plus. Some might scream bloody marry that you should never cross a NAS and data server but for home use its great. Only downside is keeping everything up with a custom built system like mine, in my case I know I have a fault SATA card that will for no reason cause the Server to lock up from time to time. But this is the cost you have to pay if you want to DIY.

  9. FingAZ says:

    I bought a Western Digital MyBook World edition (500GB), which to be honest, was total rubbish at first- apon routing around (mainly at http://mybookworld.wikidot.com/) i have disabled the rubbish software that is pre-installed, and now have it running as a media server for my PC’s, PS3 and xbox360; sharing music, pics, and videos- as well as a web based torrent client, web server, and FTP server.
    It’s very flexible apon investigation and there’s a solid community backing it too.
    I would recommend it to anyone who is familiar with terminal based linux, or anyone willing to learn like myself!
    For additional backup or speed, the 1TB version has two 500GB drives in raid (upgradable), and both models also allow for connecting additional external drives via USB for access!

  10. Robert says:

    @8 – Linux is hardly server grade – however, bsd is. Be careful not to lump Linux in with more robust *NIXs…

  11. barry99705 says:

    freenas “just works”, but is slow, openfiler is a pain in the ass to set up, and cryptonas just falls off the network for no reason.

  12. gyro_john says:

    My computer came with a SATA motherboard and an IDE 320GB drive. I bought a second hard drive of the same size, but SATA. I made an exact copy of the original drive using Norton Ghost, made that my main drive, cleaned off the IDE drive. Used Partition Magic to create a Backups partition on my main drive. Now to do backups I do two things:

    1. Every weekend I drag the crucial stuff into a new dated folder in the Backups partition on my main drive. Takes two minutes maybe. Never found that troublesome enough to bother figuring out how to automate it. After a couple of months that gets bulky and I delete the oldest ones.

    2. When I feel like it, (every month or so) I use Norton Ghost to make a new exact copy of my main SATA HDD onto the IDE one. That’s bootable in case of HDD failure.

    What this *doesn’t* give me is off-site backup, so I’m gambling that, if the house burns down, I was able to run out with the computer (chopped-off cords a-danglin’) before I pass out from smoke inhalation.

  13. Jeff Baitis says:

    Indeed, Brian — ZFS storage pools are incredibly easy to export as iSCSI volumes:

    zfs set shareiscsi=on volume_name

    One of my favorite blogs describes using iSCSI with Mac OS X Time Machine. This looks particularly interesting:



  14. Dark_AvEnGer says:

    i’m using a RAID5 array of 4x400gb SATA drives.
    unfortunatly the write speed to the nvidia chipset in RAID5 sucks. looking to upgrade to a Adaptec 5805 and maybe 4x1tb drives :-)

  15. Mr Pedant says:

    Hey, who stole all the capital letters?

  16. Gregor Best says:

    I use one of these very old IBM Netstation Thin Clients.
    My dad and I hacked together an IDE interface for its motherboard (which was basically just soldering a new pinheader on), then made a frame for an off the shelf Samsung 400 GB IDE hdd and added a Molex connector from the power supply as well as two fans.

    For the network, as we don’t have Token Ring at home, we ripped out the PCI riser card to make place for the hdd and added a regular PCI network card to the now available single PCI slot on the mainboard. We had to cut a little bit off the PCB to make it fit but it works for alost a year and a half non-stop now.

    On the OS side, we decided to use Debian (I can’t really recall the version) and set up NFS and SMB access to the drive (350 GB of which are dedicated to user data) as well as a CUPS server for printer access.

  17. joe says:

    Here’s a problem nobody seems to think of: Your primary disk becomes corrupt, or begins failing. Later that night, rsync runs automatically, where it happily overwrites your backup with corrupt data, and deletes any files on the destination that the source can’t cough up. Congratulations, you’re fucked.

    Anyone have a way around this?! Wish rsync had an option to “rename deleted files to .filename and delete them after a week”…

  18. pkway says:

    built my own file server with an old dell dimension 2400 (I think I bought it new for $100!) running Redhat Linux. got tired of having to be a sys admin at home and wanted RAID 5 support, so bought a QNAP box and installed 3 750-gb drives.

    now everything is automated – raid support, multimedia streaming, ftp, web server, bit torrent client (encrypted even!), etc. and it runs cooler, quieter and using less energy than the dell

    qnap came with its own backup software. it worked okay but i upgraded to something with more functionality: synbackse. i have a bunch of cron jobs set up to back up each of my home PC’s every few days. i haven’t done so yet, but will soon implement snapshots to i can roll back to different points in time.

  19. Thomas says:

    Roll your own server (if you have the guts) :o) I had a LaCie Ethernetdisk lying around (yes, the rack mountable one) – originally it was running XP Embedded (total rubbish) – installed 1 GB RAM (only has 128 originally), kicked out the rubbish XP and installed Ubuntu 8.04 LTS server (Hardy Heron) instead. Now I have a fullblown LAMP to boot, running two WordPress blogs, a gallery site, a site for my business and a DLNA UPnP media server. Everything on a Via C3 800 MHz CPU using under 50 Watts of power :o)

  20. anthony says:

    thomas, i must agree. roll your own is the best solution, not dependent upon any particular platform or piece of hardware. i use a microatx board & case, e2140 cpu underclocked, 1gb ram and an external 5 drive sata hotswap enclosure. the machine is running ubuntu 8.04 server fitted with 4 x 320gb drives software raid 5 + 2 x 80gb (semi-mirrored) for the OS. i’m pretty happy with the performance and only pulling ~90w on my end.

  21. ReKlipz says:

    I recently decided to create my own nas solution as well.

    I purchased the cheapest microATX board that has integrated DVI and integrated gig-e from newegg, $25. Turns out, it was also the only microATX board with 6 onboard SATA ports. I also snagged an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400+, and 2GB of DDR2-800.

    Having already blown my budget on the $25 mobo (:-), I opted to not buy a hardware raid controller, and instead just use software raid. I purchased four 750GB Samsung F1′s (because the two sammy HD501J’s I use in my gaming rig are wonderous). The drives sit in two ICY Dock 2×5.25 -> 3×3.25 hot swap enclosures.

    Plopped on debian lenny (testing), setup mdadm with raid 5, setup boot from a flash stick I fixed with a female 5×2 pin header, and away she goes. I installed X11 and mplayer, and it’ll even decode 720p with plenty of room to spare (some of first cpu, plus whole second cpu for grabs). It can’t quite handle high quality 1080p, but majority of the rips are only 720p anyways.

    I can transfer to my gaming setup via FTP 70MB/s no problem, and can receive at 65MB/s easy as well. Not sure if the write bottleneck is my gaming setup read speed (doubt it…), the integrated NICS (doubt it), or just the software parity overhead (more than likely), but this is plenty good for what I use it for.

    HIGHLY recommend rolling your own solution if possible, would be a really fun hack to make it with a microITX board… :)

  22. Matthew says:


    You wanted a way to do incremental backups. rsync can do that, if you backup to a new destination directory each night, using the “–link-dest” option. With –link-dest, files are synched if they are different to the previous version, but hard-linked if they’re the same.

    On a related note, I’d thoroughly recommend the folks at “rsync.net” for a secure reliable off-site backup. (no connection, blah blah)

  23. thanks for this im adding this blog to my twitter.

  24. JackOfAllIT says:

    I found some simple hacks for gaining access to the Lacie OS and adding RAID features in XPe:

    Accessing OS:
    1. From the console select “Backup and Restore”
    2. Select “Backup Wizard”
    3. Cancel the wizard then click on “Browse…”
    4. Change file type to “all Files” and browse to C:\Windows\explorer.exe then right click on “Open”
    5. Open computer

    Add RAID Support:
    1. Mount the Lacie OS disk to another OS or system
    2. Edit C:\Windows\System32\dmadmin.exe, …\dmconfig.dll, and …\drivers\dmboot.sys as follows:

    00001c30 73 65 72 76 65 72 6e 74 00 00 00 00 6c 61 6e 6d servernt….lanm
    00001c40 61 6e 6e 74 00 00 00 00 50 72 6f 64 75 63 74 54 annt….ProductT
    00001c30 77 69 6e 6e 74 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 6c 61 6e 6d winnt…….lanm
    00001c40 61 6e 6e 74 00 00 00 00 50 72 6f 64 75 63 74 54 annt….ProductT
    00005140 4c 41 4e 4d 41 4e 4e 54 00 00 00 00 53 45 52 56 LANMANNT….SERV
    00005150 45 52 4e 54 00 00 00 00 57 49 4e 4e 54 00 00 00 ERNT….WINNT…
    00005140 4c 41 4e 4d 41 4e 4e 54 00 00 00 00 57 49 4e 4e LANMANNT….WINN
    00005150 54 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 53 45 52 56 45 52 4e 54 T…….SERVERNT
    00011070 54 00 79 00 70 00 65 00 00 00 57 49 4e 4e 54 00 T.y.p.e…WINNT.
    00011080 00 00 53 45 52 56 45 52 4e 54 00 00 00 00 4c 41 ..SERVERNT….LA
    00011070 54 00 79 00 70 00 65 00 00 00 53 45 52 56 45 52 T.y.p.e…SERVER
    00011080 4e 54 57 49 4e 4e 54 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 4c 41 NTWINNT…….LA

    Reboot and XPe will have Windows Server 2003 RAID support!

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